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Top 5 volunteer trip destinations

Tracy E. Hopkins is an accomplished writer, blogger and editor living in New York City. She has expertise covering travel, fashion, health and entertainment.

Vacation and volunteer in the U.S. and abroad

Studies show that volunteering can increase an individual’s sense of well-being, alleviate chronic pain and reduce depression.

“I felt connected and understood what I was doing,” says Lori Harasem, a native of Canada who volunteered with Rebuild New Orleans Together to rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"I really liked that we got to know about the person whose home we were rebuilding. To think of this senior, single woman living in a trailer made me aware that the need [for housing] was, and sadly still is, so great.”

So what are we waiting for? Whether you’re keen on carpentry, nature preservation or teaching abroad, there’s a volunteer vacation out there to suit your interests. Here are SheKnows.com’s five volunteer travel picks.

Volunteer vacation

Each One, Teach One in Africa

Work with African Impact on the Cape Town Pre-School Teaching and Education Project in township schools with poorly equipped classrooms and facilities. Tasks include helping disadvantaged children with crafts, painting, reading and games; organizing classes for children with special needs; serving meals; and cleaning and refurbishing classrooms. Volunteers stay in a fully furnished house staffed with a cook and housekeeper, and three meals per day are provided. The house also has satellite television and a safe to store valuables, and is in within walking distance to a shopping mall. For two weeks, the program is $1,295 per person (airfare not included).

Speak Inglés in Spain

When Americans travel abroad, we usually try to pick up enough of the country's language to at least navigate from our hotel to nearby attractions. That's not the case during a volunteer vacation with Pueblo Ingles in Madrid, where volunteers must commit to never uttering a word of Spanish during their seven-day stay. In return for patiently helping Spanish businesspeople practice their conversational English, volunteers are housed in standard accommodations and enjoy three hearty meals a day including a buffet breakfast and a three-course lunch and dinner with red wine. Your only expenses during the trip are airfare to and from Madrid and accommodations in Madrid prior to and after your stay in the Pueblo Ingles village.

Volunteer and Get Rewarded at in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Take a break from sun and surf during your tropical winter getaway to volunteer at a national park. Through February 15, 2012, guests of the Westin St. John Resorts & Villas will receive a $100 resort credit and transfers for their efforts. In conjunction with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, visitors can participate in a one-day program that allows volunteers to show up any Tuesday or Thursday at 8 a.m. to help maintain park trails and ruins and remove debris from beaches and coast lines. The Westin St. John is only 10 minutes from the national park, and rates start at $399 per night based on double occupancy. To receive their resort credit, guests must present their volunteer voucher at the front desk. For reservations and more information, call (888) 627-7206.

Become a Trail Blazer Across the United States

Founded in 1979, the American Hiking Society is the only national, recreation-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting America's hiking trails and the hiking experience. From Yosemite National Park in California to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Maine, volunteer vacationers can join the American Hiking Society for a week of building and maintaining trails in diverse locations across the country. No experience is necessary and trips vary in intensity from moderate to strenuous. A registration fee of applies ($220 for members and $250 for non-members before the January 31, 2012, early registration deadline) and basic campsite accommodations are provided. Volunteers, however, should bring their own tents, sleeping bags, eating utensils and personal items.

Volunteer Vacation for Teens in Peru

Teens will experience a mix of service, fun and Peruvian culture during Camp Chief Ouray's Trekker Peru volunteer vacation. In summer 2012, a small group of 15- to 17-year-olds with adult chaperones will work on community service projects such as visiting an orphanage; travel through Peru's historic cities and sites; participate in dance and music lessons and try new adventures including sand boarding and desert camping. Space is limited, so interested participants should submit an application as soon as possible. Trip costs vary depending on length, and a non-refundable $100 application fee is required. For more information, contact the camp's office at (970) 887- 2648.

More unique vacation ideas

Volunteer vacations for families in the U.S.
Go wild! Volunteer vacations to help wildlife
Global charities: How to plan a volunteer vacation

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